Middlebury Clinches Tournament's Top Seed During Final Weekend of Play
HADLEY, Mass. - Middlebury College has earned the number-one seed for the first time in playoff history and will begin its quest for its first conference crown when the 2009 NESCAC Men’s Basketball Championship kicks off next Saturday, Feb. 21 with quarterfinal action at the top four teams. The Panthers will be joined by Amherst, Colby and Williams in hosting a preliminary round contest, with the Mules hosting a home game in the first round for the first time since the inaugural championship in 2001.
Middlebury (21-3, 8-1 NESCAC) fortunately didn’t have to wait until the final day of the regular season to claim the top seed in this year’s championship. The Panthers got an early Valentine’s present from travel partner Williams in the form of an 89-78 victory at rival Amherst on Friday evening, and the loss combined with a thrilling 78-76 double-overtime win at Trinity guaranteed Middlebury the number-one seed. The Panthers were unable to close out the conference slate undefeated, though, as the Lord Jeffs were able to post a 71-64 decision that snapped Middlebury’s school-record 17-game winning streak. Hosting a quarterfinal contest for the third consecutive year, Middlebury will take on eighth-seeded Connecticut College (13-11, 2-7 NESCAC) next Saturday afternoon. The Camels had a rough start to the conference schedule, losing five straight before finally downing Tufts 86-72 on Jan. 31. An 85-70 win at Wesleyan on Feb. 7 proved to be the difference for Connecticut College, as the victory gave the Camels the head-to-head tie-breaker over the Cardinals after the two squads tied for eighth in the standings. Saturday’s quarterfinal contest, the first meeting between the two squads in tournament history, will be a rematch of the Jan. 23 tilt which Middlebury took in New London, Conn., 69-50.
Second-seeded Amherst (19-5, 7-2 NESCAC) was able to salvage the number-two seed out of a weekend split thanks to Trinity’s win over Williams on Saturday afternoon, 83-73. The Lord Jeffs had earned the championship’s top seed in each of the last four years and won two NESCAC titles during that time, however league setbacks to Colby and Williams put the number-one seed out of reach in this winter’s tournament. Amherst will have an opportunity to thank the Bantams for their help in securing the second spot when they host Trinity (9-14, 4-5 NESCAC), the seventh seed, on Saturday. The defending NESCAC Men’s Basketball Champions have struggled to find consistency this season, going 7-9 since the start of the New Year and 3-2 in the month of February. Trinity was seconds away from earning its biggest win of the year on Friday but could not finish Middlebury off, falling in double-overtime 78-76. The lone meeting of 2009 went the way of the Jeffs on Jan. 24 in Hartford, 65-48. Saturday’s quarterfinal showdown will be the fifth playoff meeting between the two teams. Amherst holds an impressive 4-0 mark over Trinity in the NESCAC championship, the most recent win a 75-72 decision coming in the semifinals of the 2005 tournament.
Third-seeded Williams (16-8, 6-3 NESCAC) fell short of its highest finish since 2004 after Saturday’s setback at Trinity. The Ephs finished tied with Colby in the NESCAC standings at 6-3 but edged the Mules by holding the head-to-head tie-breaker, a 72-67 win on Feb. 6. The three-time NESCAC Men’s Basketball Champions will begin their quest for a second title in three years (2007) when they host sixth-seeded Bates (13-11, 4-5 NESCAC). The Bobcats solidified their standing with wins in their last two league outings, a 54-53 win over Trinity on Feb. 7 and a 77-65 victory against Tufts on the final day of the regular season. In the conference contest between the two quarterfinal opponents on Jan. 17 in Williamstown, Mass., Williams claimed a 76-61 win over Bates. This will be the third playoff meeting for the Bobcats and the Ephs, with the previous two occurring in the quarterfinals. Williams won the first contest en route to its first NESCAC title in 2003, while Bates snatched the 2005 game away from Williams in overtime, advancing all the way to the title game for the first time in program history before falling to eventual champion Amherst.
The final first round contest will pit Maine rivals Colby (17-7, 6-3 NESCAC) and Bowdoin (16-8, 5-4 NESCAC) against one another. The Mules earned the fourth seed and the right to host a first round contest for the first time since 2001 thanks to wins over Connecticut College, 61-47, and Wesleyan, 68-56, during the final weekend of the season. The Polar Bears also won their contests over Wesleyan (72-46) and Connecticut College (56-51), guaranteeing themselves the fifth seed. Saturday’s game will be the rubber match for these travel partners, as Bowdoin won the season-opener for both teams 67-60 in Brunswick on Nov. 15 while Colby took the conference contest 65-55 in Waterville on Jan. 17. Amazingly, these two rivals will be facing each other for the first time in tournament history next weekend.
2009 NESCAC MEN’S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Quarterfinals - Saturday, Feb. 21 at Higher Seeds
No. 7 Trinity at No. 2 Amherst - 2:00 p.m.
No. 8 Connecticut College at No. 1 Middlebury - 3:00 p.m.
No. 6 Bates at No. 3 Williams - 3:00 p.m.
No. 5 Bowdoin at No. 4 Colby - 3:00 p.m.
Semifinals - Saturday, February 28 at Highest Remaining Seed
Highest remaining seed vs. Lowest remaining seed - 2:00 p.m.
Remaining first round winners - 4:00 p.m.
Championship - Sunday, March 1
Semifinal winners - 12:00 p.m.